Freed jehadi wanted to target Pakistani nukes


LAHORE: Qari Saifullah Akhtar, an al-Qaeda-linked ameer of the
Pakistan-based jehadi group Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), who has
been freed by the provincial government of Punjab under mysterious
circumstances despite being wanted in several high profile cases of
terrorism, the most significant being a plot to blow up Chashma
Nuclear Power Plant at Kundian, Punjab, by using a group of five
Americans who had already been convicted by an anti-terrorism court in
June 2010 on terrorism charges.

According to the charge sheet filed by the Sargodha Police against the
five Americans, who had been detained in Sargodha on December 9, 2009
in a police raid on a house with links to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), they
were in contact with Qari Saifullah Akhtar who had encouraged them to
travel to Pakistan all the way from the United States to wage jehad
against those siding with the forces of infidel. The evidence
presented by the prosecution against the American nationals included
phone calls, emails, and other documents that linked them to Qari
Saifullah Akhtar.

The charge sheet had described the HUJI ameer as a fugitive, adding
that he had recruited the five Americans after watching their videos
posted on YouTube. Having obtained their email addresses through
YouTube postings, Qari subsequently encouraged them to travel to
Pakistan for the purpose of waging jehad. A few weeks later, the group
of Americans departed US from the Dulles International Airport and
travelled to Karachi, and then Hyderabad, to Lahore, and finally to

Once arrested, their trial was closed to journalists and was heard by
a single judge in a special anti-terrorism court. According to the
prosecution, one of the men had left an 11-minutes-long video
expressing his view that Muslim lands must be defended against the
western invaders. According to investigations carried out by the
Pakistani authorities, the five Americans from Washington D.C had
planned to meet a contact close to the Pak-Afghan border between
Punjab and the Frontier provinces, and then to proceed to the
stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. During the course of
investigations, that contact turned out to be Qari Saifullah Akhtar,
whom Ahmed Minni, one of the five Americans, had met on the internet
after he had posted remarks praising a video footage on Youtube,
showing Taliban-led attacks on the US-led Allied Forces in

All the five US nationals – Waqar Hussain Khan, Ahmed Minni, Ramy
Zamzam, Aman Yemer and Umar Farooq were subsequently charged with five
counts of conspiracy to target Pakistani nuclear installations in
Chashma, attacking Pakistan Air Force bases in Sargodha and Mianwali,
raising funds to carry out terrorist activities, waging war against
Pakistan and planning to wage war against a friendly country. On June
24, 2010, Judge Mian Anwar Nazir found them guilty and sentenced them
to 10 years imprisonment and fines of $823 each for conspiring against
the state and an additional 5 years for financing a militant

Interestingly, the day the five Americans were convicted, their jehadi
handler, Qari Saifullah, was declared an absconder despite the fact
that he had already been arrested from Rawalpindi by that time and was
in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies. Qari Saifullah had
to abandon Waziristan after he was wounded in a US drone attack. He
subsequently travelled to Peshawar and then to Rawalpindi for
treatment before being arrested and taken to Lahore, only to be placed
under house arrest in the Chisthian tehsil of Punjab in August 2010,
before being released in the first week of December 2010.

However, it is not for the first time that Qari Saifullah, believed to
be a tool of the intelligence establishment, has eluded prosecution.
Though Qari’s role in targeting the welcome procession of Bhutto on
October 18, 2010 in Karachi could not be explored further due to the
lack of interest shown by the government, his previous involvement in
a failed coup plot in 1995 had projected him as one of the most deadly
militants who, from the intelligence Establishment’s viewpoint, had
gone astray. The group of potential plotters busted by Military
Intelligence at that time included four serving army officers, headed
by Major General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi. Brigadier Mustansar Billa, who
had also been arrested, was described as the ideologue of the
religiously motivated army men. The arrested army officers were
accused of plotting to first take over the GHQ of the Pakistan Army in
Rawalpindi during the Corps Commanders Conference, and later overthrow
the Benazir Bhutto government to eventually enforce their own brand of
Islamic Shariah in Pakistan.

Major General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi was serving at the time as
director general of the infantry corps at the Pakistani Army high
command in Rawalpindi. With the help of sympathetic military officers,
the group allegedly began plotting against the civilian government of
Benazir Bhutto and the Army Chief, General Abdul Waheed Kakar. It was
claimed that they planned to assassinate Bhutto, Kakar, senior cabinet
ministers and the military chiefs in order to bring about a
corruption-free government in Pakistan. Acting on a tip-off from Major
General Ali Kuli Khan, who was the director-general of Military
Intelligence (MI), the Chief of General Staff (CGS), Lieutenant
General Jehangir Karamat, who later became the Chief of the Army
Staff, suppressed the coup by arresting thirty-six army officers and
twenty civilians from the garrison town of Rawalpindi and the federal
capital, Islamabad.

Those arrested were charged by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM)
with conspiring to assassinate military commanders with the help of a
group of Kashmiri militants belonging to the Harkatul Jehadul Islami
(HUJI) led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, whose fighters had been provided
with military uniforms and equipped with arms and ammunition to carry
out the covert coup operation. However, once the FGCM formerly
started, Qari Saifullah saved his neck by becoming an approver on
behalf of the prosecution, during the trial. His name was subsequently
dropped from the list of the accused. Those conducting the court
martial proceedings had admitted, at one stage, that without the
testimony of Saifullah it would have been extremely difficult to
convict the accused khakis.

Those who had plotted the coup were convicted by the FGCM and awarded
different sentences ranging from two to fourteen years. The highest
sentence was given to Brigadier Mustansar Billa (fourteen years).
Major General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi was given a seven-year term in
jail. Abbasi was, however, released from prison before the completion
of his jail term, by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999, within
four years of his arrest.

After the dismissal of the second Bhutto government in 1996, Qari was
released; he went to Afghanistan and was inducted into the cabinet of
the Taliban ameer, Mullah Mohammad Omar, as his adviser on political
affairs. Once in Afghanistan, the militants in Qari’s HUJI were called
‘the Punjabi Taliban’ and offered employment, something that other
jehadi groups could not get out of Mullah Omar. Interestingly, the
HUJI had members among the Taliban, too, as three Taliban ministers
and twenty-two judges belonged to the group. The Harkat militants are
known to have supported Mullah Mohammad Omar in difficult times.

According to international media, at least 300 HUJI militants lost
their lives while fighting the Northern Alliance troops, prompting
Mullah Omar to give Harkat the permission to build half-a-dozen more
training camps in Kandahar, Kabul and Khost, where the Taliban army
also used to receive military training. Before the 9/11 attacks and
the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, HUJI had branch offices in 40
districts across Pakistan. While funds were collected from these
grass-roots offices and from foreign sources, the Harkat had accounts
in a couple of branches of the Allied Bank in Islamabad.

Qari Saifullah Akhtar was one of the few jehadi leaders from Pakistan
who had escaped with Mullah Mohammad Omar after the US-led Allied
Forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. He first took shelter in
the South Waziristan Agency; then moved to Peshawar and eventually
fled to Saudi Arabia, from where he decided to move to the UAE. Three
years later, on 6 August 2004, he was arrested by the UAE authorities
and deported to Pakistan after it was revealed during the
investigations of the December 2003 twin suicide attacks on Pervez
Musharraf that he had been executing terrorist operations in Pakistan,
with the help of his right-hand man, Amjad Hussain Farooqi. Qari
Saifullah Akhtar’s whereabouts are unknown since he was last released
on 8 June 2008, but he is believed to be hiding in the Waziristan

The three-member UN Commission (which investigated Bhutto’s murder)
stated in its inquiry report that militants of particular concern to
Bhutto and others included Qari Saifullah Akhtar, one of the founders
of the extremist Harkatul Jehad Islami (HUJI), whom she accused of
involvement in a failed coup attempt against her in 1995, during her
second tenure as prime minister:

Mr Akhtar, who was living in Pakistan when Ms Bhutto returned from
exile, was reportedly one of the ISI’s main links to the Taliban
regime in Afghanistan and is believed to have cultivated ties with Mr
bin Laden, who lived in Afghanistan during that period. Ms Bhutto
believed that Mr Akhtar was connected to the Karachi suicide attack
against her in October 2007. Mr Akhtar’s one-time deputy commander,
Ilyas Kashmiri, who had ties with the Pakistani military during the
Afghan and Kashmir campaigns, had been a senior aide to Mr bin Laden’s
deputy Dr Ayman al Zawahiri. Such links and connections between
elements in the intelligence agencies and the militants most concerned
Ms Bhutto and many others who believed that the authorities could
activate these connections to harm her.

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